It Was Vijay Day at the Masters

Article excerpt

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Settled snugly in his newly donned green jacket, Vijay Singh was asked what he would serve at next year's Masters champions' dinner.

"That's a surprise," he smiled.

No kidding.

The conclusion of yesterday's 64th Masters was stocked with surprises, and Singh authored the majority of them with his once-shaky shortstick.

Augusta National has had a long-standing soiree with golf's greatest putters. From Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus to Ben Crenshaw and Jose Maria Olazabal, the game's best clutch putters always seemed to have the right of way on Magnolia Lane.

Despite all the talk about long hitters who could shape high approach shots, the Masters usually devolved into a glorified short-game contest. And Singh, for all his rangy tee-to-green prowess, was never considered a serious contender at Augusta because nobody thought him capable of coping with the world's slickest set of putting surfaces.

Yesterday, the 37-year-old Fijian defied Masters history and dismantled his reputation as a feel-challenged automaton. Answering a front-nine charge from the field and burying every big putt he stood over, Singh dismissed David Duval and 56 others on golf's shrine in the pines. He posted a final-round 69 for a 10-under-par total 278 and cruised to a three-stroke victory and his his second major title.

"Wearing this green jacket just tops it all," said Singh, who took his first Grand Slam title at the 1998 PGA Championship two months after he switched to a cross-handed putting style. "If you had asked me two years ago if I could win here, I probably would have told you I didn't think so. I didn't have enough confidence in my putting. . . . I probably have 1,000 putters at home - that's not an understatement, either."

This week, he obviously chose the right one.

Of course, even his new "Dandy" putter couldn't turn water into wine - at the end of the week, Singh still tied for 45th in total putts (1.722 putts per green). But yesterday, he seemed to make every one that counted.

He began the day at 8:15 and held a three-stroke lead - 7-under - over David Duval. The pair finished their final four third-round holes with pars, completing Saturday's suspended play before retreating to their rented homes for a three-hour hiatus. Duval napped; Singh plotted his final-round strategy.

The pair then returned to the 6,985-yard, par-72 layout for what was expected to be a dramatic showdown. But Singh's stroke sapped the suspense.

A brilliant, near-windless day greeted Singh and Duval when then returned for the final round and each knew that standing his ground probably wouldn't be good enough to collect the coat. Pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods, out ahead of them, went out in 33 and reached 4-under, and sublime putter Loren Roberts matched Woods' score to reach 6-under. But neither Singh nor Duval seemed to be distracted by the rumblings beneath them.

Initially, Duval looked to have the stronger constitution. The 28-year-old Floridian dropped an 8-footer at No. 2 to reach 5-under, while Singh stumbled to a three-putt bogey at No. 3 to fall back to 6-under.

But instead of rattling Singh, the miss "jolted him awake," and he would not misfire on another meaningful roll all day. …